Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lament of the SKULL SUZERAIN

I drag my clammy hands down my face, open my eyes.

The city nightscape glows through the floor-to-ceiling window behind me. I drop my hands onto my desk, polished marble taken from the rubble of Liberty Temple after SKELETRON tore it to the ground. I put in 20 years to get this desk. My wife and I made love on this desk the night I got the promotion.

But now it’s all gone to shit. SKULL FIGHTER is coming and I can’t stop him.

I circle around the desk, tugging the cuffs on my black-and-grey seersucker jacket. I should be sprinting, but that’s fatalism for you. I leave, and in due course I’m in the security room.


“It’s the fucking apocalypse out there, sir,” PANOPTICON SKULL tells me, and the monitors behind him assure me he’s telling me the truth. They show us the signs of our enemy’s passing: the frayed, crackling stumps where coaxial turrets once sat, crates smashed for their contents. Bodies, piled like cordwood.

“Where is he?” I ask.

“Level seven, sir,” he says.

I suck in a breath. SKULL FIGHTER’s one floor away. I scan the security feeds with my eyes, trying to find him.

“What have we got left?” I say.

“Some of the surviving ICE SKULLS and FIRE SKULLS are holed up at the top of the funicular for a last stand.” He points, and I see he’s right. They’ve piled up office equipment like sandbags. I can see some of them praying.

“The Caliginossuary didn’t slow him down?” I say.

PANOPTICON SKULL shakes his head. “The cold didn’t slow him down once he’d gotten the Fire Crystal’s power,” he says. “FIRE BRUTE was still alive when SKULL FIGHTER pulled the crystal out of his head.” I see him swallow under his mask, see his eyes flick away for a moment.

“It wasn’t pretty, sir,” he says.

“An awful way to die,” I say. He looks surprised. Everyone knew the FIRE BRUTE and I never got along. He chafed over the cutbacks in his department, but the energy costs for his floor outstripped any other two floors put together. He could either have lava pits 24/7 or new office computers every year like the rest of us.

It didn’t matter now. He was worm food. All the work I’d done to balance the SKELETOWER’s operating expenses, none of it mattered any more.

“There he is, sir,” PANOPTICON SKULL says, pointing at a monitor to the far right.

I see him. SKULL FIGHTER walks with an unhurried swagger, fists balled at his sides, blue cape flaring in a dramatic crest behind his shoulders. He approaches a liveried JANISSARY SKULL at an oblique angle. Those balled fists swing out in wild haymakers, one, two, three. An uppercut knocks the elite defender to the ground. SKULL FIGHTER kicks him while he’s down, savage, rib-snapping stomps.

The cape fools neither of us in the security room. This is no avenging hero, it’s an unchained monster. Unchained, and unstoppable, and coming right for us.

“You can stop him, right, sir?” PANOPTICON SKULL asks.

“What?” I say. I feel light-headed.

“You can stop him? That’s why SKELETRON pays you the big bucks, right?” he says.

“No,” I say. I turn away.

“What? Where are you going?” he says.

“To the top of the funicular,” I say. “It’s our last chance.”

It’s no chance at all. I leave him.


We can hear the strain of the funicular’s motors and cables. I commissioned it in happier times, an industrial-size platform for the occasions in which SKELETRON wanted to ascend with the grandeur due to him by his high station.

Now it brings our deaths.

I can see two HEAVY WEAPONS SKULLS blurting bursts of high-caliber bullets down into the approaching funicular. Their shots crunch into ice shields. The bastard got the Ice Crystal too, damn him.

A few FIRE SKULLS send out blasts with their wrist-mounted flamethrowers, but they’ve got nothing yet like the range they need to reach the ice shields. And when they do get close enough, those shields will be the least of their problems.

“Semper SKELETRON,” one of the JANISSARY SKULLS hails me, snapping a salute. His discipline in the face of imminent death stings me to respond.

“Semper SKELETRON,” I say back.

“There are a dozen of us here,” the elite says. “We won’t be able to hold him for long, but we can get you the time you need. What’s the blast radius, sir?”

“Of what?” I say.

He cocks his head. I see his eyebrows knit behind his royal-purple skull mask.

“Of the Tenfold Skull-Removing Mudra,” he says.

That would be the Tenfold Skull-Removing Mudra, the second-highest expression of deadly force known to practitioners of Skulljutsu. The technique that only one in ten thousand can master and the reason I got my promotion to SKULL SUZERAIN.

The technique I can’t do.

“Just... get in close,” I say.

“It’s going to kill all of us, won’t it,” he says, a statement of fact.

Something’s going to kill all of us, anyway. I can see him now, as the funicular looms into view behind us.

“It will be quick,” I say. “SKELETRON will watch over your souls in the Negaverse.”

“I can think of no more fitting end to my service,” he says, thumping his chest with a fist. He turns, with the others, to meet his approaching fate.

They’re all quiet now, all business. The funicular reaches the top. The battle begins.

I run while they die.


I thought my service would vindicate the lies. The testimonials from colleagues, old frat buddies of mine. The cleverly-edited video demonstrations, camera footage panning over floppy, de-skulled heads contorted like grimacing pancakes. How insane was it to measure the worth of an administrator by combat skill? What were even the chances that I would have to fight for my life in the very heart of SKELETRON’s empire?

They were pretty good chances, as it turned out.

I’ve barely made it to my office when the door splinters behind me. SKULL FIGHTER finds me cowering behind the desk. He runs, winding up to kick the desk, the marble top, and me, through the window and down into the nightscape.

“Wait!” I cry. “Wait-”

His foot connects and the weight of the desk blasts the air from my lungs. The last thing I hear is the floor-to-ceiling window shatter.

Forgive me, SKELETRON.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Fran challenged me with "Almost to the goal, encounter a major roadblock...." and I challenged M. Hunter with "Cyberpunk isn't dead, cyberpunk is a zombie! Take something you did in the past week and reimagine it through the dystopian gaze of William Gibson."


  1. The news devastated the SKULL SUZERAIN's wife, but she used her grief as fuel to create a support network for bereaved WIFE SKULLS. They meet twice a month and do anonymous city beautification projects, like hiding power-ups in trash cans.

  2. It's so good to know that the SKELETRON families continue with a positive outlook.